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Happy Autism Awareness Month! April is a great time to celebrate people on the autism spectrum and all they are and do, and also a time to help those who do not know much about autism become informed. But we often come across the question "how?" Yes, we can light buildings blue, wear ribbons and donate money, but how is that helping member of our own communities learn about autism? Not to worry - we are here with a list of ways to raise awareness about autism!

First: Learn about autism
Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Stephen M. Shore

  • First and foremost, it is important to learn as much as possible about autism - become aware yourself in order to help others become aware. If you are a family member of an individual on the spectrum you are probably already quite aware. In order to learn more about autism I recommend the following things:
  • reading books such as The Spark, Beyond the Wall or Raising a Sensory Smart Child
  • Watch Inside the Spectrum: Interviews with Autism Thought Leaders, particularly the interview with Erik Hedley & his mom, Teresa.
  • Spend time with people with autism! Do you have a friend who has kids with autism? Perhaps you have lost touch - this is common, and they would love it if you reconnected and let them know you wanted to learn more about autism. Reach out to a local community centre and see if they have programs for individuals with autism that you could volunteer at. Or see if there are other autism programs near you where you can meet people with autism and learn first hand what kind, selfless individuals they can be.

Second: Learn how to speak about autism
The Sun in Our Sons: Erik & Teresa HedleyThis can be very hard. Even family members who have spent time with individuals on the spectrum can find it hard to describe autism to others. Luckily, Teresa Hedley, in conversation with Member of Parliment Mike Lake, recently wrote a post about this called The Sun in our Sons. It is a great start to thinking about how we present autism to those with no background on the subject. Otherwise, I recommend writing down a list of the things you appreciate about your child and thinking about which may be because he or she has autism. This will give you personal examples and help you speak in concrete ideas when building awareness among other.

Third: Now that you know about autism and how to speak about it, let's raise awareness!

Raise Autism Awareness1. Write an editorial for the local paper. Include information about autism, as well as news about local organizations, programs or support groups for people with autism.
2. Contact your local library, community center, or school to see if you can create an autism awareness display. Include information such as facts, local support groups or programs, stories and resources.
3. If you have a child or a connection to the school, visit their classroom in April and read a story about autism to the class and/or hold a discussion (depending on their age).
4. Hold an information night for parents, teachers or community members. Have parents, siblings, individuals on the spectrum and professionals talk about their experiences and how to support people with autism. This could also be a lunch time session for teachers at a school, teachers & employees at the community center, or any local company.
5. Support local awareness events such as walks or Autism Awareness month celebrations - the more people attend, the more coverage it will get and awareness will be spread!
6. Make up packages of information, a video (doesn't have to be high quality) or a podcast to share with those around you to help them learn about autism.
7. Have an autism awareness dinner - if you are a parent on the spectrum (or a parent at all), chances are you have some old friends you have lost touch with. Invite them over for dinner and tell them that it is autism awareness month. Let them know you want to share your life (including autism) with them in hopes of raising awareness and catching up. Don't be afraid to make your house sensory friendly for the dinner - the whole point is to increase understanding of autism!
8. Hold a quiz night at the school, a local pub or any venue. Make it fun with a variety of questions, but include facts and information about autism. Also a great time to invite someone to say a few words, and very possible to make into a fundraiser for a local organization running autism programs.
9. Share facts and information about autism, including personal stories and the good sides of it, on your social media. We will be sharing information all month long on our facebook page - feel free to use or share them!

Hopefully those ideas sparked some excitement in you. Keep in mind that you probably know much more than the average person about autism - just sharing some of the basic facts with your community could make grocery shopping, eating out and daily life better for you, your child, your friends or a stranger. What other ideas do you have to raise awareness about autism? Share in the comments below!

Written by Monica McMahen — March 31, 2015

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